Nielsen ratings have been a hilarious source of skewed American TV viewing habits for years now, since well before we learned that networks will intentionally misspell program names to avoid low ratings. The company’s feet-dragging policy on incorporating the roughly ten gazillion ways that people now view their entertainment on streaming devices has made the already shaky assessment methods utilized by the company seem downright quaint, like an old farmer using binoculars to peer into his neighbor’s windows in order to determine what they’re watching, possibly while he simultaneously churns butter. But at least one small form of online streaming is now in the mix: Variety reports Nielsen will now include YouTube TV and Hulu’s live streaming service in its calculations of viewing habits.
Let’s be clear: This is still just a drop in the online bucket, even among users of both Hulu and YouTube. It only registers programs viewed as part of the subscription services of both companies that are watched in the live streaming format. Meaning, the programming “has to ‘mirror’ the commercial load of the original linear TV broadcast and be seen within the three-day or seven days windows,” the same length of time required by normal cable packages in which people watch recorded shows on DVRs. Most of what you’re watching, like those episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale you’re just now getting around to, still don’t count.
Nielsen has had the ability to measure these numbers for a few years now, but it required agreement by the networks to launch the new initiative. Which is definitely a great indicator that everything is good and fine in the Nielsen business, because having to wait until the companies you’re evaluating tell you what they want you to measure is a sure sign of healthy and ethical practices.